The President of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) has described the low prioritisation of gardai in the national vaccination plan as an insult to members facing into one of the busiest policing days of the year.
In a St Patrick’s Day message to members, GRA President Frank Thornton said: “The members of An Garda Siochana are currently preparing for what, under normal circumstances is one of the busiest and most dangerous days in the policing calendar.
“Yet again the women and men we represent are an over-stretched workforce facing into the unknown without protection against a deadly virus that could infect them, and as a consequence, their families and the public.
“The GRA is focused on the safety, health and welfare of our members. Policing in ordinary times is a dangerous occupation but the current pandemic has brought additional risks – as we have seen in recent weeks.
“Whether policing a large protest in a busy city centre or attending a house party in rural Ireland, our members are increasingly on the receiving end of vicious attacks and assaults.
“I want to pay tribute to the members I represent and recognise their outstanding contribution to the national effort to suppress this pandemic in the last year.
“The flexibility, commitment and dedication shown has been simply phenomenal. Our members have changed rosters at short notice, and adapted to ever-changing guidelines, regulations and restrictions with very little, if any, guidance or training.
“Despite policing and enforcing restrictions that severely restrict the fundamental freedoms that every citizen takes for granted, the professionalism and compassion shown by members has avoided confrontation and the need for enforcement on many, many occasions. We have also seen gardaí supporting our most vulnerable and isolated citizens.
“As we face into St Patrick’s Day, I believe it is important to recognise and acknowledge what the members we represent are facing.
“While we hope the day passes without incident, it is most likely our members will be exposed to the type of incidents that occur when alcohol is involved, such as public order and assaults. The pandemic has seen a rise in domestic violence which international research shows is the greatest danger to police personnel.
“Gardaí are also increasingly finding themselves as the first responders to people experiencing a
mental health crisis, an all-too-common occurrence during the pandemic.
“The Government and society have looked to gardaí in our time of crisis and we have consistently delivered. We have seen incredible demands placed on our members, and time after time they stepped up to the plate and did whatever was asked of them.
“The people on the frontline dealing with the fallout from this crisis cannot shy away from the dangers they and their families face.
“The fact that gardaí are among the only first responders on the frontline who are not being prioritised for vaccination is a source of anger and frustration.
“Placing gardaí at number 10 on the vaccination rollout plan is an insult to the women and men who have contributed so much to date.
“We are meeting Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on Thursday where we will forcefully tell her that it’s time the critical role gardaí play in controlling the pandemic, saving lives and keeping the economy going is properly recognised; and the sacrifice they and their families have made over the past year be respected.”
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